The Fisherman’s Trip To The Sea

The Fisherman’s Trip To The Sea

(Acts 9:32-43)

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

Neal Pollard

Studying a map, Peter travels the road from Jerusalem northwest through Emmaus until he reaches the village of Lydda. This is the Lod of the Old Testament, part of the southern kingdom mentioned in 1 Chronicles 8:12, Ezra 2:33, and a few times in Nehemiah. The only time it occurs in the New Testament is in this paragraph. We can assume that the church was established by those present to hear Peter and the apostles preach on Pentecost. Or, perhaps, it was the efforts of those who were scattered from Jerusalem who went everywhere preaching the word (8:4). The route Peter takes to Joppa crisscrosses the road Philip took from Gaza to Caesarea Maritime (Azotus is a couple of towns south of Lydda). Whichever the case, there were already saints when Peter reaches Lydda. This includes a paralytic man named Aeneas, who Peter heals. This causes all who lived at Lydda and Sharon (Song of Sol. 2:1) to turn to the Lord (35). Faith is flourishing and the church is growing.

Peter continues his travels northwest until he reaches the seacoast city of Joppa (today, it is one of the most important cities in Israel, known today as Haifa). When Peter arrives, he’s also there to visit the church (36ff). About the time of his visit, one of the Christian women “fell sick and died” (37). We learn several things about her:

  • She was a disciple (36). This means she is a learner associated with Jesus’ views (BDAG 609).
  • She “was abounding with deeds of kindness and charity which she continually did” (36). This should not surprise us, as it seems to further define and defend the fact that she is a disciple. Jesus went “about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil” (10:38). She was simply doing as He had done.
  • She was loved and missed by the local church (38-39). Her death was an urgent matter. They plead with Peter to come quickly. When he arrives at the upper room where she’s laid, the Christian widows are “weeping and showing all the tunics and garments that Dorcas used to make while she was with them” (39). 
  • She was raised (40-42). Peter brings her back and presents her alive to the church. We can only imagine what joy this brought the church, but we know that this act caused many to believe in the Lord (42).

The miracles and signs performed in the early church all served the same purpose. They were to create faith in Jesus, the Man, His message, and His mission. Peter remains in Joppa many days, staying with a tanner named Simon (43). It is here that he will be a part of a dramatic turn of events that takes him north along the seacoast (Acts 10). 

When Peter was invited to follow Jesus, he was told, “…I will make you fishers of men” (Mat. 4:19). Did he take any opportunities to go down to the seacoast and fish the Mediterranean while at Simon’s house? I don’t know. I do know that his primary focus now was on fishing for men. God used him mightily in that effort, both to encourage the saints and reach the lost. Likewise, whatever we were and whatever we did before becoming a disciple of Jesus, He can use us in those ways (as He did Dorcas) and leverage our experience to bring about great results to His glory! 

Haifa (biblical Joppa) at sunset
Does God Only Shelter Some In A Storm?

Does God Only Shelter Some In A Storm?

Friday’s Column: Brent’s Bent

Brent Pollard

I’ve heard some say of a house left standing after a tornado or hurricane that God must have spared the structure’s owner from material loss because of their righteousness. But, unfortunately, such statements imply that the neighboring destroyed property belonged to the unrighteous. Yet Jesus said, “for He (God) causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5.45, all ref. NASB1995 unless otherwise indicated). 

Even amongst the destruction, though, if someone is observant enough, he sees what he chooses to call miraculous. However, since a miracle is the suspension of God’s natural laws, we understand that the word “miracle” oft becomes an adjective to describe what defies human comprehension. In reality, laws of nature explain the “skipped” houses or why a decorated Christmas tree can remain amidst a room, missing its walls and a part of its ceiling. 

For example, there can be what scientists call “suction vortices” within tornadoes. Within a more significant tornado, these many vortices move in a looping, cycloid pattern that will hit some things while completely missing others.1 In other words, the hand of God was in the creation of the natural laws resulting in the occasional formation of tornadoes, with their suction vortices, as opposed to directing storms into particular locations.  

But did God originally intend for His natural laws to include such destructive phenomena? Think back to the world God initially created. God called it “very good” (Genesis 1.31). What changed? Humanity used its free moral agency to sin, bringing change to the world. In fact, things got so bad that God destroyed the original world. Peter says, “…by the word of God the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water and by water, through which the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water” (2 Peter 3.5-6). 

Among those mechanisms that God put into place in the world emerging from the flood are the weather patterns that spawn tornadoes and hurricanes. The patient patriarch, Job, observed the following regarding the wisdom known to God: “…He imparted weight to the wind and meted out the waters by measure…He set a limit for the rain and a course for the thunderbolt…He saw it and declared it; He established it and also searched it out” (Job 28.25-27). 

Now, the point of our devotional today is not to increase the misery of those having suffered loss during what insurance companies euphemistically call “acts of God.” Yes, things like tornadoes and hurricanes do arise because of sin. However, it is not a part of the chastisement God sends upon us (cf. Hebrews 12.4ff). So, if you want to see God after a tornado, do not see it in a church building with no roof, but with all its hymnals and pew Bibles still safely secured in the pew racks. That is likely but a side effect of natural law.  

No, look for God in His grace. As Fred Rogers often said, “When I was a boy, and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”2 Might I suggest that it is in the helpers that we see the actual hand of God? His Providence works through the people clearing debris, handing out food, and providing shelter to those who have lost everything. These fulfill the law of Christ (Galatians 6.2). Thus, God does not only shelter some in a storm. He provides for all of the weary through the agency of those whom He made in His image (Genesis 1.26-27).  

Sources Consulted and Cited 

1 Seman, Steven, et al. “Tornado Damage, Safety, and Myths.” Tornado Damage, Safety, and Myths | METEO 3: Introductory Meteorology, The Pennsylvania State University, www.e-education.psu.edu/meteo3/l9_p8.html

2 Rogers, Fred. “A Quote by Fred Rogers.” Goodreads, Goodreads, www.goodreads.com/quotes/198594-when-i-was-a-boy-and-i-would-see-scary

It’s A “Miracle”?

It’s A “Miracle”?

Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words

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Gary Pollard

It is tempting to believe that an incredible recovery, acquisition of a needed job or asset, or escape from a major life issue is an example of the miraculous. In the religious world, a miracle is something a few believe can be invoked with prayer, a special religious service, or even a social media post (“pray that ______ will be healed by a miracle from God”).
Despite living in an age where notions of the supernatural are considered unscientific or are chalked up to circumstances we simply don’t understand yet, there is still much confusion surrounding the miraculous.
Miracles served a specific purpose both in the Old and New Testaments: they were designed to glorify God. Parting the Red Sea, striking a rock to get water, a talking donkey, an endless supply of oil and flour, the sun standing still, and all of the other miracles were – by design – impossible to perform without divine help. The Hebrew word for miracle meant “a sign or wonder” (Hebrew & Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament). Its purpose was to prove to the recipient that God was in control, was all powerful, was perfect, righteous, to be feared, and to be obeyed. Miracles were also used to prove that someone’s message was actually from God or that God was with them.
In the New Testament, miracles served to prove that Jesus was the Son of God and that the Apostles’ message was certainly from God. Water was turned into wine, the dead were raised, sicknesses were healed, people who were uneducated could suddenly speak multiple languages, predict the future, read someone’s mind, etc. The Greek word for miracle meant “a deed that exhibits the ability to function powerfully” (BDAG 263). These deeds were impossible to perform without God’s help, and they served a specific purpose: to prove that a message came from God, or to prove that a purpose originated with God.
While it certainly is a nice sentiment that an otherwise unlikely recovery or escape is an example of the miraculous, it’s important to remember that miracles served a specific purpose no longer relevant to our time. We no longer need miracles to prove our message comes from God because we have His complete and perfect word in scripture (I Corinthians 13).
Not having miracles in our world may be a downer to some, but we have this to look forward to: a place without sin for those who die faithful (II Peter 3.13). A place without death for those who die in Christ (Revelation 20.14). A place without sorrow for those who sleep in God after a lifelong battle in this sinful world (Revelation 21.4).
Miracles existed because this world is fallen (Romans 8). Their purpose was to demonstrate God’s power over Satan and sin in a world characterized by all that cannot coexist with goodness. Those who are living life in view of the next find hope and comfort in the miracle of Scripture, the miracle that will bring us home if we follow it.

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A view of the Valley of Aijalon, where God caused the sun to stand still. 

Lessons From Adversity (1): Let Go and Let God

Lessons From Adversity (1): Let Go and Let God

Friday’s Column: Supplemental Strength

brent 2020

Brent Pollard

We find God not in an anxious mind, but a still heart. God exhorts us in Psalm 46.10a, “Be still, and know that I am God” (KJV). Contextually, this statement occurs amid the possibility of much turmoil. We admit sometimes we must move forward to receive God’s deliverance, as the Israelites did when pressed by pharaoh’s army at the Red Sea (Exodus 14.13-16). Yet, there are also times when we can do nothing. For those times, we’re to be still.

 

What do we mean by “still?” Without trying to sound like a Hebrew scholar which I’m not, allow me to suggest by using this word God is saying, “Drop your arms!” In other words, quit fighting or putting up a resistance. The New American Standard states in Psalm 46.10a we are to “cease striving.” Each of us reach a point in our life when the time for our struggle ends and we must enter the vestibule of God’s Providence.

 

What do we do, for example, when the doctor says we have cancer? The Kubler-Ross model of grief puts anger as third on its list of seven stages. We all experience grief differently, so anger may come either sooner or later for you than at stage three. However, I can tell you from experience, anger is something you feel dealing with cancer. “Why me? Why not this sinner over here? I never smoked. I never drank. I’ve been chaste.” Yet, God says, “Be still, and know that I am God.” He has shown us through His Word, His grace is enough (2 Corinthians 12.8-10). And for any lingering anxiety, there’s prayer. What does prayer do? It grants peace we cannot even comprehend (Philippians 4.6-7).

 

Though an entire lesson can be given about Providence, let me briefly suggest why it’s more awesome than the miracles for which people beg when they hear “cancer.” For a miracle, God instantaneously suspends natural law, and directly intervenes. It’s amazing, I admit. It shows His power in a way one cannot ignore (e.g. parting the Red Sea). Yet, it’s also not the thing to which He must resort to heal one’s body of a disease like cancer. His Providence is there to use the immune system which He placed within us. Providence is quiet. It requires that we be still to observe it. When we do, we see God in a thousand different things. Like a domino stacking champion, God aligns the bits and pieces that, when struck, fall into place revealing the beautiful mosaic He planned for us all along.

 

The more still you make yourself throughout life, the more you see His Providence. Through prayer comes peace, yes, but so, too, the wisdom to know when to move and when to be still (James 1.4-6). So, let go and let God. Live faithfully and trust Him do the rest.

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view from Pike’s Peak

“Immediately”

“Immediately”

Neal Pollard

The astute reader of the book of Mark finds the word 40 times in 39 verses (the Greek word most often translated “immediately” in Mark is actually found 44 times). It is a key word found consistently throughout the gospel but especially in the first six chapters. Usually, the word is used to quantify the time between Jesus performing a miracle and it taking effect. The point seems to be to show the power and Divine nature of Jesus. It is also a thread that runs throughout the book to highlight key thoughts and main ideas in this second book of the New Testament. The word is used to highlight the Father’s affirmation of Christ following His baptism (1:10), Jesus’ journey into the wilderness to triumph over the Devil’s temptations (1:12), the disciples’ decision to leave their occupation to follow Jesus (1:18,20), Jesus’ entering the synagogue to show unparalleled authority and power (1:21), the news and fame that followed Christ’s teaching and healing (1:28), and the immediate response of the one healed by Jesus–the first of many uses of the word “immediately” to highlight such (1:29-30). The proof for Jesus’ identity was immediate. The effect of Jesus’ miracles was immediate. The impact of Jesus’ miracles and teachings on friend and foe was immediate. Mark’s use of this word seems to indicate how overwhelming and unmistakable the proof of Jesus was.

This is not to say that one should rashly decide about the Lord. The book of Mark is part of God’s way to convince man about who Jesus is. Take the time to read it and learn of Him. Like the other three gospels, Mark contains the miracles, teaching, claims, and events in Christ’s life at the end of which one must ultimately make a decision concerning who He is. Remember, though, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16). Weigh the evidence, and then decide. Follow the example of so many in the book of Mark and let the power and person of Jesus have an immediate impact on your life and your soul.

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Is It A “Sign”?

Is It A “Sign”?

Neal Pollard

I read about the discovery of World War I shells found in the Sea of Galilee, likely dumped by fleeing Turkish ships lightening their load to escape the pursuit of the British. There is a bigger story, though, than a 100-year-old wartime artifact being found in an unlikely place. The shell was uncovered through an unprecedented drought that has left exposed an island in the middle of that sea. Some religious Jews think it presages their long-awaited Messiah, their conviction based on their view of Psalm 66:6, Zechariah 14:8, and Isaiah 15:9. Adam Eliyahu Berkowitz, a veteran of the Israel Defense Forces and freelance writer, cites various rabbis who say that the present weather anomaly and its consequences are prophesied signs. Yosef Berger, the rabbi of David’s tomb in Jerusalem, says, “Just like in prayer, which is a dialogue with God, our thoughts are taken into account in Heaven, and can bring the desired prophecy into existence… By people believing that the Galilee drying up is part of the prophecy, it will help the Messiah come” (Breaking Israel News).

I appreciate any people who believe in the truth of the Messiah, and I see any such looking and longing of a transparent sincerity. However, these well-meaning Jews are 2000 years too late. The kind of Messiah they seek is not clearly stated, but their forefathers rejected the kind of Messiah Jesus Christ was and is. The Old Testament prophesies of His birth, ancestry, forerunner, earthly ministry, opposition, crucifixion, resurrection, and church were fulfilled in the time of Jesus. The New Testament often looks back at prophesies and show how Jesus fulfilled them.

The Jews of Jesus day stopped their ears and shut their eyes to the signs and miracles He did, repeatedly proving to the open-minded observer that what such revered men as Moses, David, Isaiah, Micah, Zechariah, Malachi, and others wrote concerning the Messiah was fulfilled by the nature, birth, life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth (cf. Luke 24:44-47; John 20:30-31). Their lack of faith cost them at Jerusalem in A.D. 70. It will cost them eternally, if they do not believe in the Christ who has already come.

The drought-stricken waters of Galilee are a sign of a lack of sufficient rain, but nothing more. Those still awaiting the One who already came should instead learn of Him and follow Him. Because His second coming will be without signs (cf. Mat. 24:36ff). May we all be ready for that day!

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“I Know Who You Are!”

“I Know Who You Are!”

Neal Pollard

A rich detail in the study of the gospel of Mark is the testimony of the unclean spirits about Jesus. 

  • Mark 1:24—A man in the synagogue with an unclean spirit said, “What business do we have with each other, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who You are—the Holy One of God!”
  • Mark 3:11—“Whenever the unclean spirits saw Him, they would fall down before Him and shout, ‘You are the Son of God!’”
  • Mark 5:7—The man with the unclean spirit named Legion said, “What business do we have with each other, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I implore You by God, do not torment me!”

In addition to these encounters, the gospel repeatedly shows Jesus’ power over the unclean spirits—He gave authority to the apostles over the unclean spirits (Mark 6:7), He healed the little girl with the unclean spirit (Mark 7:25), and He cast out the unclean “deaf and mute” spirit from the man’s son (Mark 9:25). Reading just those few accounts of Jesus’ power over them, no wonder they testified about Him! Who knows what they had seen of Him in the spirit realm that people on earth had not seen?  

Consider a few observations about these believing, confessing evil spirits we read about in the gospel record. 

Their faith exceeded the faith of the apostles, disciples, and religious leaders.  Jesus rebukes the absence and littleness of faith in the people who encounter Him, even those who were His closest followers. In Mark 8:28, so many were wrong about who He was. The disciples showed fear instead of faith or they missed the point on occasions where faith would have made things clear. How humbling for them that unclean spirits were crystal clear in their knowledge about Jesus. 

Their faith did not benefit them.  James’ epistle drives this point home. He writes, “You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder” (2:19). These unclean spirits were working against Christ. Just knowing who Jesus was did not save them nor did it make them submissive to Him.

Their faith is presented as a prominent proof of Jesus’ identity.  The miracles, wonders, and signs performed by Jesus help the apostles and disciples ultimately figure out who Jesus is. Peter would preach this (Acts 2:22ff). John would write this (John 20:30-31). Reading about this in the Bible, countless men and women through the centuries have believed based on the record about Jesus that includes His power over the spirit world. Mark presents these encounters to establish the fact confessed by Peter: “You are the Christ” (8:29).

How does this apply to us today?  First, let’s not let the world live with greater faith and understanding than we do. Second, let’s understand that merely understanding and believing the identity of Jesus will not save us. Faith must be accompanied by works. Third, may we allow the various proofs about Jesus to build and grow our faith and trust in Him, and by this yield a foundation which stands up to the fiercest storms (cf. Matt. 7:24-25). Let’s not merely say to Jesus, “I know who You are!” Let’s show Him!

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